Magued Eldaief: Robotics — The Future of Student Housing Construction

by Katie Sloan

College campuses across the country are in a constant state of flux. Classrooms and academic spaces are changing, costs are rising and myriad factors are forcing universities to redefine the student experience. Student housing finds itself in the middle of this ever-evolving atmosphere.

As the demand for state-of-the art student amenities escalates and an increasing number of colleges are using housing as a marketing tool to attract the best and brightest students, new dormitories top the wish lists of universities around the nation. Residence hall design is also being jolted by technology. While mobile computing, ever-present internet connectivity and distance learning all affect how, when, and where students learn, advances in technology can ease on-campus construction woes, too.

While opportunity exists, on-campus construction presents unique challenges not shared by other construction projects — with little room for error. On-campus projects need to attract top student talent while remaining on schedule, on budget and minimizing disruption to its surrounding areas.

 Amenities Galore!

Increasingly, lavish amenities are becoming signatures of student housing as students are beginning to demand more value from where they live. Ubiquitous internet connectivity is just one of the residential amenities that colleges are using as selling points to lure students. 

For example, Uncommon Fort Collins, a recently completed student housing project for Colorado State University, features a fitness room complete with weights, cardio equipment, a ski simulator and a rock climbing wall, two outdoor courtyards, a lounge and a business center. While these amenities may appear excessive to their bill-paying parents, university officials say they’re fiercely competing for top student talent, so they strive to give them what they want.

Many universities view housing as an extension of their brand, consequently, on-campus housing is being designed to offer amenities rivaling market-rate apartments that compete for student renters. As a result, builders are considering how to incorporate luxurious amenities earlier in the design process. Advances in 3D building information modeling (BIM) have allowed the structure and engineering details that will eventually be built on site — including state-of-the-art amenities and academic and social spaces — to be captured in a fully detailed, 3D virtual model during the earliest stages of the design process. This advance enables architects to use software to model the structure as part of their typical project design workflow, in addition to driving efficient and expedited layout, design and system coordination.

School Construction Zones

Due to the nature of on-campus projects, the ability to keep surrounding areas “out of the construction zone” is crucial. Loud machinery and chatty construction crews create distracting noises that aren’t conducive to a positive learning environment, and at the end of the day,  students pay to come to campus and learn. 

Another technological advance working to generally improve student housing construction while minimizing disruption to the areas surrounding an on-campus project is the use of robotics. With lean manufacturing robotic systems, assembly proceeds according to engineered shop renderings created by advanced BIM software, building a digital plan that guides the assembler and highlights parts by order of assembly.

Automated robotic welding systems work directly from the architect’s model, allowing systems to fabricate building components before they arrive on site, which makes on-site installation easier than ever before. Building a brand new student residence on campus rather than simply assembling one is far less appealing to facilities directors when it comes to disruption. Building from scratch, on site is significantly more disruptive than buildings that only need to be bolted together. 

The Bottom Line

A crucial factor in determining which company will or won’t receive a school construction bid is the bottom line. The majority of universities depend on state and federal funds, in addition to tuition payments, which means construction budgets are often rigid, with little to no wiggle room. 

Many construction companies struggle to keep student housing projects under budget, but advancements that utilize robotics or automation are not only making job sites safer and projects faster to build, but these systems typically make the completion of a student housing project less expensive, too. When it comes to student housing projects, budgetary issues resulting from waste, rework, unreliable crews and poor quality are untenable. 

However, advances in construction technology have opened the door for projects to be completed on budget. The level of precision unlocked by manufacturing robotics systems drastically reduces on-site waste and eliminates the need for costly and time-consuming rework in the field as building components do not need be cut and built on site — they are simply installed using QR codes to help on-site crews complete projects in less time, with fewer people.

On-Schedule Production

When it comes to student housing, universities have very strict deadlines, because when classes start, students need somewhere to stay. Construction methodology that enables technologies like BIM is ideal for these time-sensitive, multiunit projects because of its 3D scalable design aspect. When builders know the precise measurements and outcome of a project, the need for rework is greatly reduced.

Time-consuming, repetitive work that requires heavy lifting and precision is the ideal task for automated robotics systems. By receiving precise specifications and dimensions for every component, manufacturing robots progressively shape high-quality building components that yield an unmatched level of precision. Manufacturing robots are able to punch, dimple and cut building materials to precise measurements for assembly into entire building components like wall panels and trusses. Working with steel framing unlocks a level of precision that allows for improved structural stability, meaning mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) tradespeople can begin work much earlier than with concrete structures.

Automated robotics systems allow for the creation of a seamless process — from design through installation. From eliminating costly rework to phasing in MEP tradespeople to begin working sooner, advances in construction technology are beginning to ensure student housing projects stay on time and on budget.

In the end, robotics systems and automation are becoming increasingly viable solutions for the school construction industry, allowing student housing projects to be built faster and for less money while improving on-campus safety by minimizing disruption. Even slight differences in operating expenses can unlock significant savings, and companies must be prepared to meet the demands of intelligent institutions with digital techniques and advanced technologies or they risk not having the tools get the job done.

Magued Eldaief, CEO, Prescient

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